Guide to the Elements of Chinese Astrology

Posted on September 14, 2019

​While many people will be familiar with the twelve animals associated with Chinese Astrology, fewer are aware of the 5 elements (compared to Western Astrology’s 4 elements) also involved. If you are a Rabbit, you are not simply a Rabbit. You may be a Fire Rabbit or a Water Rabbit. If you are a Snake, you are not just a Snake. You may be a Wood Snake, a Metal Snake, or an Earth Snake.

The 5 elements of the Chinese Zodiac have a powerful effect on us. They are also known as the 5 Movements, 5 Phrases, 5 States of Change and 5 Steps. They move around in either the Generating Cycle (positive) or the Controlling Cycle (negative).

What this means is that the Generating Cycle shows the positive relationship between the elements. This is the mothering, nurturing and supportive cycle as you can see from the following:

Water makes Wood grow > Wood makes Fire burn > Fire creates Earth > Earth bears Metal > Off Metal runs Water.

Then there is the Controlling Cycle. This is a cycle of destruction, where two forces oppose one another. This can be seen from the following:

Water controls Fire > Fire melts Metal > Metal chops down Wood > Wood breaks the Earth > Earth soaks up Water and blocks its flow.

This is one way of determining which characters get along with each other in the Chinese Zodiac and which ones are mortal enemies. Let’s take the Tiger and the Monkey, for example, two traditional enemies. The Tiger is ruled by Wood and the Monkey is ruled by Metal. From the Controlling Cycle, we can see that ‘Metal chops down Wood’ - or rather, ‘Monkey chops down Tiger!”

Though it isn’t quite as simple as all that. Let’s say you have a Metal Tiger who befriends a Monkey – there’s a good chance the two would get along like a house on fire, because the Metal element in this particular Tiger is friendly with the Monkey’s natural element. Similarly, animals in the same trine will often share an affinity for one another, regardless of their individual elements.

The Quick & Simple Trick to Discovering Your Element:

It’s a bit like understanding the nine times table, really, where all the answers add up to nine! If you want to know what your own personal element is, take the last number of your birth year and then follow the formula below:

  • If the last number of your birth date is 0 or 1, yours is a Metal element.
  • If the last number of your birth date is 2 or 3, yours is a Water element.
  • If the last number of your birth date is 4 or 5, yours is a Wood element.
  • If the last number of your birth date is 6 or 7, yours is a Fire element.
  • If the last number of your birth date is 8 or 9, yours is an Earth element.

How About Personality Traits?

Each element bestows a defining set of characteristics onto a person. In the Chinese Zodiac, you will naturally be one of five elements, as well as the natural element of your sign. Imagine you are a Fire Horse – that is one fiery person, as Fire is also the Horse’s natural element. If you are a Water Horse, your natural Fire may be somewhat tempered by the Water in you.

Here’s how the different elements can have an effect on your overall character. Each element is also represented by a totem animal:

Wood:

Wood people are idealists and highly gifted. They are planners who like to know which direction they’re going in. They’re not the biggest fan of surprises. While everyone else is running around like headless chickens, Wood people are calm in the knowledge that they have a good plan mapped out. Others see them as a source of inspiration.

Totem animal: Owl

Water:

Water people are sensitive, sympathetic and excellent at coordinating. They are not as feisty as other elements, but they have a quiet sort of power which can be lethal when unleashed. Water people are always willing to lend an ear or a helping hand, but people should be careful not to take advantage of them or take them for granted.

Totem animal: Chameleon

Fire:

Fire people are brave and resourceful. Just like the element of Fire, they tend to leave a trail-blaze everywhere they go! The Fire person is an excellent researcher, able to delve into vast amounts of information and find a way to make sense of it. Fire people tend to have strong leadership abilities

Totem animal: Koala

Earth:

One of the kindest elements, Earth people are known for their compassion and integrity. They are the most tolerant of all the signs and most likely to listen to another person’s side of the story. This is a fair and just sign which does not allow emotions to run away with them. They are cool-headed and honest, and make good and reliable leaders.

Totem animal: Peacock

Metal:

This is an element of immense strength. Metal people are the most dogged and persistent of the elements and it is rare for them to give up. They can be workaholics sometimes and they have the ability to sway crowds with their strong opinions and intense stares. This is a magnetic element that often draws people to them through sheer charisma.

Totem animal: Tiger

Conclusion…

You see, Chinese Astrology isn’t just great for discovering your dream career or figuring out which era you’re most suited to – just like any other form of astrology, it is made up of many complexities and intricacies, and the more we dig, the more we get to find out about ourselves. Adding the Chinese elements factor to this only broadens our knowledge and helps us understand both ourselves and those around us even better.

Related Article: Understanding Yin & Yang: A Philosophy of Balance

Did you enjoy this article? Please share it with your friends!

Sarah Brownlee is a harmonious Libra Sun, Conflicted Scorpio rising, and a Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac. A whirlwind writer with a passion for Tarot cards and Astrology in all forms… Read More »

You might also be interested in


Next Article